In the world of Yu-Gi-Oh!, becoming King of Games makes you the top banana in the contest of Duel Monsters. Protagonist Yugi Muto famously sits on that throne for almost the entirety of the series. However, when you look at how that accomplishment can theoretically change hands, there may have been more title holders than fans realize.
Canonically, King of Games can only be determined in officially sanctioned tournaments. The show has hinted more than once, though, that beating the champ in general, formally or otherwise, makes the winner the new top dog in everything but name. For the sake of fun, let’s run with that logic. Given that Yugi loses several duels outside of tournaments, what other characters can potentially claim to have been a King — or Queen — of Games at some point throughout Yu-Gi-Oh!? More importantly, who ultimately walks away with the title by the series’ conclusion? Let’s trace the hypothetical lineage of King of Games throughout the entirety of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! anime and find out which duelists sit in the winner’s circle.
The Little Queen
Yugi becomes recognized as the first King of Games by defeating Maximillion Pegasus, the creator of Duel Monsters, in the final match of the Duelist Kingdom tournament at the end of Season 1. Shortly thereafter his first loss after becoming top dog comes at the hands of Rebecca Hawkins: an eight-year old prodigy and teddy bear advocate. When discussing Yugi’s loss record, this encounter tends to be overlooked, since Yugi surrenders the duel in order to teach Rebecca a valuable lesson about the Heart of the Cards. It’s a touching gesture, but a loss is a loss! This forfeit effectively makes Rebecca, already the American champion at this time, the new Queen of Games as well. Becky Two Titles!
Rebecca Hawkins is Queen of Games
Rebecca doesn’t appear in the anime again until the Waking the Dragons arc (Season 4). Her title reign hits a buzzsaw in the form of Valon, the Australian Cockney henchman of this season’s head baddie, Dartz.
Here’s where things get contentious. Rebecca teams with Mr. Dungeon Dice Monsters, Duke Devlin, to face Valon in a two-on-one duel. Valon wins anyway, but this poses an intriguing question: Can the King of Games mantle change hands in tag matches? Or do only one-on-one duels count? We’re getting into WWE logic now. But from here I’ll branch off and explore two possible timelines: one where Valon becomes King of Games right here, and one where Rebecca retains the title.
The Valon Timeline
Valon — with his bizarre but cool armor deck — continues his reign of terror before meeting his match in the form of Yugi BFF Joey Wheeler. The pair face off in one of most emotionally charged, absurdly over-the-top duels of the entire show with Joey standing tall as the victor. Joey may have been fighting for the honor of a brainwashed Mai Valentine, but he unknowingly becomes the top ranked duelist in the world. That’s so Joey…
Joey Wheeler is King of Games
Unfortunately, Joey’s run at the top lasts about as long as it takes to read this sentence. Upon defeating Valon he’s immediately challenged by Mai — her mind shackled under the evil influence of the Orichalcos magic (don’t ask). Joey, fatigued from the previous bout, holds on as best he can, but eventually succumbs to exhaustion and passes out (card games will do that to you in Yu–Gi-Oh!) just as Mai comes to her senses. Since being physically incapable of continuing a duel counts as forfeiting — in fact, this isn’t even the first time Joey loses in such a way during the series — Mai reigns supreme.
Mai Valentine is Queen of Games
Mai seeks to avenge Joey by challenging Dartz, but gets intercepted by Rafael, Dartz’s most powerful enforcer. The two duel offscreen, but Rafael comes out on top. Funnily enough, despite being a jumped-up henchman, even the show considers Rafael more-or-less the King of Games at this point. That’s because he defeated Yugi earlier in the season, which is the more fast and loose way to become the monarch throughout the show.
Rafael is King of Games
Yami Yugi, a.k.a. “The Pharaoh,” catches up to Rafael soon after Mai goes down and faces him in a rematch. Yami wins, reclaiming the King of Games title to technically make him a two-time champ. It’s worth noting that since Yugi is out of commission for most of this season (having lost his soul to Dartz), Yami becomes the sole owner of the KoG crown. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say they fully shared the title before with weird ghost magic, since we care more about the internal logic of Yu-Gi-Oh! as the show itself sometimes.
Yami Yugi is King of Games
Yami doesn’t lose again until Yugi himself defeats him in the final duel of the series. The title, now inarguably split, has officially changed hands between the only two people (or spirits) to truly share it. That makes Yugi Muto the final King of Games of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! anime – at least in the timeline where Valon became champion in the first place.
But that’s not good enough for us. We need to know how things look in all possible realities, with no margin for error based on unofficial rules. That means it’s time to examine the other possible scenario for any differences.
The Leon Timeline
If King of Games can only be determined one-on-one, then Rebecca Hawkins retains her title past Valon and all the way to the KC Grand Championship filler arc in Season 5. Everybody remember that? No? Well, she participates in the latest tournament put on by longtime Yugi rival, Kaiba, but loses in the semi-finals to fellow whiz kid Leon von Schroeder (under the guise of Leon Wilson). Everybody remember how this is all predicated on wrestling logic? Good.
Leon von Schroeder is King of Games
Theoretical King of Games Leon battles canonical King of Games Yugi in the final match to determine the true best duelist in the world. Yugi beats Leon to either retain or regain the King of Games title, depending on how you look at it.
From here on, things proceed exactly as they do in the Valon timeline. Yugi bests Yami in the final duel of the show to still walk away as the definitive King of Games! It’s a somewhat predictable answer, but at least it’s definitive, dammit.
Or is it…? Maybe more possibilities still exist.
The Joey Timeline
Let’s get wild for a bit. After the conclusion of Battle City, Season 3 ends with Yugi and Joey squaring off with the latter attempting to win back his Red-Eyes Black Dragon. Yugi won Joey’s prized card from a villainous Rare Hunter, who himself won it from Joey prior to the tournament’s start. However, Joey insisted Yugi use Red-Eyes for himself until Battle City had concluded.
The winner of this duel is never revealed. Since Joey uses Red-Eyes during Season 4, some Yu-Gi-Oh! theorists believe he must have finally beaten his best friend at some point. Lots of duels happen offscreen, after all, as we’ve already established. Alternatively, Yugi won and just returned the card to him out of pity or something. I’ll go with the more exciting, less humiliating possibility.
Joey Wheeler is King of Games
Once again, you would refer to the Valon timeline for how the rest of this plays out: Mai eventually defeats Joey, Rafael beats Mai, so on and so forth. Say it with me:
Yugi Muto is still the final King of Games!
But wait, there’s more! To make sure no stone gets left unturned, let’s explore one final, wacky scenario.
The Pegasus Timeline
Here’s where I start to reach a bit. For real this time. Yu-Gi-Oh!’s pilot episode sees Yugi upset Seto Kaiba, the undefeated reigning world champion. Kaiba’s title, officially dubbed the Duel Monsters World Championship, seems unrelated but equivalent to the King of Games moniker. Yugi himself admits their duel wasn’t official — and thus doesn’t consider himself the new world champion. Since I’m not as modest, let’s pretend that Yugi gets crowned the new champ in the very first episode.
Yugi Muto Is King of Games (Or Duel Monsters World Champion if You Want to Get Technical)
In Episode 2, Maximillion Pegasus, upon learning of Kaiba’s defeat, sends a cursed video tape to Yugi. He then uses it to duel him through the TV because, well, magic. The duel takes place under a strict 15-minute time limit with the winner having the highest life points by the end. Pegasus outlasts Yugi, albeit barely, combining two titles and making him the new Duel Monsters King of Games World Champion… or something like that.
Maximillion Pegasus is Duel Monsters World Champion
Of course, as well already know, Yugi goes on to triumph over Pegasus to win Duelist Kingdom and become King of Games. See all previous timelines for the rest. We’re right back at the end of Season 1, resetting the branching timeline before we even get to the weird stuff yet again.
No matter how you slice it, Yugi always emerges as the world’s greatest duelist once the dust settles. Caveats be darned, he truly is the King of Games. Long live the king.